Jan 5, 2021

Boris Johnson COVID-19 Lockdown Press Conference Transcript January 5

Boris Johnson COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript January 5
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsBoris Johnson COVID-19 Lockdown Press Conference Transcript January 5

Boris Johnson held a Downing Street press conference on January 5 to discuss the national lockdown. Read the full transcript of the briefing here.

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Boris Johnson: (00:00)
New variant, this new variant of coronavirus. And I believe that when everybody looks at the position, people understand overwhelmingly that we have no choice. When the Office of National Statistics is telling us that more than 2% of the population is now infected, that’s over 1 million people in England. And when today we’ve reported another 60,000 new cases, and when the number of patients in hospitals in England is now a 40% higher than at the first peak in April, I think obviously everybody, you all, want to be sure that we in government are now using every second of this lockdown to put that invisible shield around the elderly and the vulnerable in the form of vaccination, and so to begin to bring this crisis to an end.

Boris Johnson: (01:03)
And I can tell you that this afternoon with Pfizer and Oxford AstraZeneca combined, as of this afternoon, we’ve now vaccinated over 1.1 million people in England and over 1.3 million across the UK. And that includes more than 650,000 people over 80, which is 23% of all the over 80s in England. That means that nearly one in four of one of the most vulnerable groups, will have in two to three weeks, all of them, a significant degree of immunity. And when you consider that the average age of COVID fatalities is in the 80s, you can see the importance of what we have already achieved. And that’s why I believe that the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization was right to draw up a program aimed at saving the most lives the fastest. So by February 15th, as I said, last night, the NHS is committed to offering a vaccination to everyone in the top four priority groups, including older care home residents and staff, everyone over 70, all frontline NHS and castoff, and all those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

Boris Johnson: (02:37)
And to help us with meeting this target, we’ve already have 595 GP led sites providing vaccines with a further 180 coming on stream later this week. We have 107 hospital sites with a further 100 later this week. So that’s almost a thousand vaccination sites across the country by the end of this week. And next week, we will also have seven vaccination centers opening in places such as sports stadium and exhibition centers. We know that there will still be long weeks ahead in which we must persevere with these restrictions, but I want to give you, the British people, the maximum possible transparency about this vaccine rollout with more detail on Thursday and daily updates from Monday so that you can see day by day and jab by jab, how much progress we are making. Thanks for watching. I’m going to hand over to Chris to do the slides.

Chris Whitty: (03:46)
Thank you. Prime Minister. First slide, please. Just some updates in terms of data. In the two weeks from the 30th of December, the UK case rate increased by 70%. And as you can see by, from these two graphs, one of which is from the middle of December on the left, and one on the right, the map is from the 30th of December, the darker colors are areas where there are very high rates of transmission. And as you can see across the whole of the UK, there has been a steady increase in the rates. Next slide, please.

Chris Whitty: (04:27)
These are the most recent data from ONS, the Office for National Statistics, and what this shows is the number of people, and they do this on a random sampling basis. So this is a good estimate of the general population. And this shows the data from August when we actually had very low rates. So in the middle of September, for example, one in 900 people had rates, then an increase, the lockdown was brought in and that brought down the rates, but then we had the problems of the new variant, which I’ll come on to the next slide, and the worst period of winter combining to lead to a significant increase since that time. And we’re now into a situation where across the country as a whole, roughly one in 50 people have got the virus, higher in some parts of the country, lower than others. But one in 50 is really quite a very large number indeed. Next slide, please. If we look around England, what we find is that in every area there has been a relative increase in the new variant of this virus that is spreading around the country, fastest increase in the East of England, London and the Southeast, but it is now taking off in other areas as well. In some of the areas where it took off to the highest level and tier 4 was brought in during a period when schools were closed, there maybe some early indications of some leveling off, but I think we shouldn’t over-interpret that. But it is really clear that this new variant has been rising in all parts of the country. And what we’ve seen is that the bits of the country which had got some of the lower rates and had previously control things, particularly in the Northeast and Northwestern, for example, the rate of increase has, in many of these, been higher than in some of the Southern areas, which have got very high rates already. Next slide, please.

Chris Whitty: (06:36)
This has inevitably translated into new numbers of patients going into hospital. So these are the number of people in hospital all the way from the 1st of April through to the 1st of January. And you can see the first peak of people in hospital, then decreased due to the remarkable efforts of everyone in the country during the first lockdown, and then through the summer months, an increase, which then again, went down due to the second lockdown, but now really a very rapid increase. And I don’t think you need any modeling to see in what direction the number of hospitalized patients with COVID is going, and this is going up very rapidly. And of course, we are still in the middle of winter. Next slide please.

Chris Whitty: (07:26)
And sadly, of course, some of those people go on to die. This is the number of deaths of people who had a positive test result. And there was an increase which led to the second lockdown, a decrease following that. But these numbers of deaths are now increasing again. They are at this point quite a long way below the first peak. And there are three reasons for that. The first of which, which is very good news is that doctors, nurses, medical staff in general, are able to manage this disease better than they did previously, better drugs, things like dexamethasone, but also better treatment all around.

Chris Whitty: (08:08)
The second reason is that there is an age effect that some of the people who are being infected at the moment are younger age than in the first wave. But this obviously, what we’ve seen previously, is it moves up through the age bands over time. But the third reason is that deaths are much delayed. So what happens is people get infected, there’s then a delay before they get ill enough to go into hospital. And then there’s quite a long delay before some people sadly die. And we will unfortunately see, because of the spike in people going into hospital from the last slide, we will inevitably see an increase in number of people who die of this disease as we go into the rest of January. Thank you very much.

Boris Johnson: (08:52)
Thanks Chris. Patrick, anything to add? Thanks very much. Let’s go to question from the public, Hannah from Northamptonshire.

Hannah: (09:01)
Good evening. My question is how are you supporting people with severe mental health issues? For example, my mom suffers from schizophrenia and doesn’t understand the pandemic circumstances. How would you help someone like her? Thank you.

Boris Johnson: (09:19)
Well, Hannah, thank you very much for your question. And obviously I’m very sorry for the extra anxiety that the pandemic is causing people such as your mom, people with mental health conditions, and I totally understand why people are concerned. We’ve put a huge amount obviously into NHS mental health care, I think about another 12 billion or so. But directly during the pandemic, what we’re doing now, Hannah is trying to support some of the wonderful mental health care charities that reach out and work with people like your mum. And I think we put about 19 or 20 million into that. That’s what we’re doing at the moment, but you know, clearly the best thing for your mother and everybody is that we get through this as fast as possible. Thank you, Hannah. Let’s go to, and if anybody wants to add anything to that, thank you. Let’s go to Rachel from Reading.

Rachel: (10:21)
I have two children at university, one in halls of residence and one in private accommodation. Could you advise how students will be supported to meet the costs of accommodation that they are not able to live in? And could the government advise if there is any support to reduce tuition fees or the need to repay student loans? Thank you.

Boris Johnson: (10:43)
Thanks very much, Rachel. Well, obviously we will be looking very carefully at what’s happening to students as a result of the fact that their courses have been postponed, the absence of the tuition that they would expect, what we hope is that they will get-

Boris Johnson: (11:03)
… that they would expect. What we hope is that they will get online learning that will allow them to continue with their degree courses. But clearly there are going to be issues to do with the cost of that accommodation, that we will have to look at, as a government and see what arrangements universities are making to deal with the reasonable concerns of many, many students. And I want to thank students for the sacrifice that you are making, in staying away from university. Learning online is, you have to, like all other students and peoples in the next few weeks and month. I know it’s a big sacrifice, but I believe sincerely it will be worth it for the reopening of education and the reopening of our lives. Thank you very much, Rachel. Let’s go to Vicky Young of the BBC.

Vicky Young: (12:04)
I’m going to say the whole country is relying on you to take the right steps at the right time, and many think that you waited too long to bring in extra restrictions. How can I have confidence in your decision-making, when on Sunday, you insisted all schools should stay open, and the very next day ordered them to close? And to Professor Whitty and Professor Vallance, when did you first advise the government to lock down in England? And do you think the vaccine rollout timetable is realistic?

Boris Johnson: (12:33)
Thanks very much, Vicky. Well, I think it’s very important to understand that we’ve been looking at the new variant of… Very hard, ever since we first became aware of its rapid spread, I think on the 18th of December. And it’s been clear that the tier four measures was something that we wanted to evaluate, and over the course of the days leading up to Sunday, clearly, like everybody else in the country, we were hoping that we would start to see some impact, and that we would be able to keep schools open, because keeping schools open is an absolute priority for this country. And keeping kids in education is absolutely vital for this country. But Vicky, what we obviously had to contend with was figures, not just the decision by the four CMOs to go up to alert level five, but figures for the infection rate, I think of 80,000 one day, then 65,000 the next.

Boris Johnson: (13:43)
And it was clear that we got to a situation where tier four, on its own, couldn’t be relied upon to get the virus under control. And that’s without really going the whole way and asking people to stay at home, and sadly to close schools as well. And that’s why we took the step that we did. And I appreciate the frustration of teachers and parents, and obviously the frustration of pupils. But can I repeat my thanks… I don’t know whether I’m being premature in saying this, Vicky, but I believe that the BBC is coming forward with a big program of education for three hours today. That will be something, that the government will be doing everything we can to help with remote learning as well.

Speaker 1: (14:38)
Well, I’d say half of the second one… The CMOs met yesterday morning, and reviewed the data, which had been getting steadily worse in all four nations of the UK. And they advised that we should move to level five yesterday. Patrick might want to talk about SAGE advice, independently of that. In terms of the vaccine timetable, my view is that the vaccine timetable is realistic, but not easy. And the NHS is going to have to use multiple channels to get this out, but they are very determined to do this. But that does not make it easy. And of course, in the case of the Pfizer vaccine, as I think is widely reported, it’s more difficult to handle, because of the complicated cold chain model. And we also, with both vaccines, wanted to be very careful in the first two or three days that we went a little bit slowly, just in case there were some initial unexpected problems.

Speaker 1: (15:36)
But I think we do now have a situation where things can be rolled out across lots of different channels. And I think what is really important is that we do that according to the ordering, which has been recommended by the JCVI, which is the Joint Commission on Vaccination and Immunization, which the prime minister talked about. And the reason for that is that, that ordering means that we will have the maximum impact on the disease, because the people that by far, the highest risk of dying will be vaccinated first, and those who care for them. Then the next down, including NHS workers, social care workers, and then on down, all the way through to people in their fifties and those under 50 who have other underlying health problems. By doing it in that way, at whatever speed we do, the, the mortality benefits will be front-loaded. And what we’ll first see is a reduction in mortality over time. And then after that, there will be a slowing of the pressure of COVID on the NHS. But that will take longer. So those two will not happen at the same rate.

Speaker 1: (16:41)
And the final thing to do is to say that in the UK, we’ve taken a decision based on JCVI advice, but endorsed by scientific bodies, like the Society for Immunology, endorsed by other medical bodies, like the Royal College of General Practitioners, to delay the first dose of both vaccines by 12 weeks. And we’ve done this based on a number of different scientific lines of decision-making. And that is to allow us to maximize, over the first 12 weeks, the number of people who can be vaccinated, so we can get down those JCVI levels as fast as possible before the second vaccine is given. And that should provide a high degree, not the complete protection, because everybody should have their second dose at 12 weeks. But that should provide a high degree of protection and get us through that as fast as we can, because we are facing, as I think the prime minister said, and the data shows, a really serious emergency at the moment.

Patrick: (17:42)
The increased transmissibility of the new variant was clearly a concern. And given the effects of restrictions, it was obvious that actually, you need to do more in order to retain it, if you’ve got a higher degree of transmissibility. So I think the view from SAGE, and the papers are there, was that, that it was likely that more measures will be needed to retain transmission of a variant that had an intrinsically higher transmissibility rate. And that’s indeed what’s now born out, that you see very fast growth, very fast spread amongst all age groups. And it’s going to need really much firmer measures in order to keep on top of this.

Boris Johnson: (18:28)
Thanks very much, Vicky. Let’s go to Robert Peston of ITV.

Robert Peston: (18:33)
Good afternoon, gentlemen. Given that there are now a million people infected, what is the chance that we’ll be out of lockdown before the middle, end March, possibly even later? And secondly, to the scientists in particular, you’ll be aware that some of your colleagues are concerned that by widening the gap between first and second dose, you are increasing the risk of the virus mutating and building up resistance to the vaccine. Could you quantify that risk for us please?

Boris Johnson: (19:08)
Thanks Rob. Let me have a go at the first one, first. And I think it all depends, that our ability to come out of the lockdown measures, our ability to get through this fast, depends on a number of things. And it obviously if… Provided we don’t learn anything new about the virus that we don’t yet understand, so there’s not some new mutation that we haven’t currently bargained for, provided the vaccine rollout goes according to plan, provided the vaccine is as efficacious as we think it is, but above all, provided that everybody follows the guidance now and everybody sticks to the measures that we have now, then we think that by the middle of February, when a very considerable portion of the most vulnerable groups will have been vaccinated or so we hope and believe… That’s the top four of the JCVI cohorts, then there really is the prospect of beginning of the relaxation of some of these measures. I wouldn’t put it any stronger than that. But you’ll also appreciate that there are lots of caveats, lots of ifs built into that. And the most important of which is that we all now follow the guidance and stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives.

Speaker 1: (20:44)
I’ll have a first go this, but Patrick, if you want to add to this, on the vaccine question. By extending the gap, we are going to, over the next three months, be able to essentially double the number of people who can be vaccinated. So if, by a process of not-very-difficult mathematics, if over that period, there is more than 50% protection, then you’ve actually won. More people will have, overall, have been protected than would have been otherwise. And our quite strong view is that we think protection will be quite a lot more than 50%. So therefore in net public health terms, there’ll be substantially more protection by going faster… Not with the absolutely complete protection. We fully agree, we need a second a dose for everybody. But with the great majority of the protection for that initial period so we get twice as many people vaccinated over that period, and then there’ll be catch up as we go into spring.

Speaker 1: (21:39)
There are obviously some unknowns in that. And there’s quite a vigorous scientific debate about some of those unknowns. And one of the things people have raised, as a theoretical risk, that by having this longer gap, you could actually lead to a slightly increased risk of an escape mutant. And that is a real worry, but quite a small, real worry within the system. And I think we discussed this, and Patrick may want to add to this…

Chris Whitty: (22:03)
… in the system, and I think we discussed this, and Patrick may want to add to this, amongst scientists involved in SAGE and others. I think the general view was, the size of the increase in risk is sufficiently small that measured against this ability to double the number of people who actually are vaccinated, the public health arguments are really strongly for doing what we’ve decided to do. That’s why JCVI independently [inaudible 00:22:23] make sure they were content with us taking this approach. A variety of other bodies have agreed that this is a sensible balance of risk [inaudible 00:00:34]. Clearly, if we had infinite vaccine, we might’ve taken different approaches, but we don’t.

Chris Whitty: (22:37)
At this point in time for the next three to four months, the number of vaccines we have available is going to constrain our ability to get through the 25 to 30 million people we must do to get through all of the JCVI areas.

Chris Whitty: (22:52)
Whilst this is such a fast-moving virus at this point in time, our view is very strongly on balance of risk, the benefits to the UK. For us at this point of the epidemic, we’re in favor of doing this. Patrick, you may want to add to that [crosstalk 00:23:06].

Patrick Vallance: (23:06)
Well, the only thing to add is, the more you vaccinate, the more you put evolutionary pressure on the virus. It’s true that as you get at the very high levels of vaccination, the virus is then struggling to find out what to do, and that eventually will become an issue. The virus probably will mutate at that point. That means that different vaccines will be needed in due course.

Patrick Vallance: (23:24)
One of the, I think, very exciting things about the science behind this is the messenger RNA vaccines in particular are incredibly fast to make in response to new mutations. So that in due course in years to come, as we think about this, that will be something that I think gives an advantage to being able to get round it. But all vaccination will ultimately put some pressure on viruses to mutate.

Boris Johnson: (23:47)
Thanks very much. Sam Coates of Sky.

Sam Coates: (23:51)
I’m going say, there are 60,000 new infections recorded today, partly driven by kids spreading this new strain more readily. Parents want realism. Can you look parents in the eye and tell them that all kids will definitely be back in the classroom before the summer holidays?

Sam Coates: (24:06)
So Patrick Vallance, we’ve heard quite a lot recently about a second new variant. This is the one from South Africa. Has it reached our shores? How worried should we be about the South African variant of coronavirus being resistant to the vaccine?

Sam Coates: (24:19)
Professor Chris Whitty, how mobile can life really be after just the 13.2 million most vulnerable alone have been vaccinated? Isn’t the risk for those aged 20 up to 50 too high to let it rip through those age groups?

Boris Johnson: (24:35)
Well, Sam, I’ll take the first one of those excellent questions just on whether we can be absolutely sure that schools will reopen. Well, I just go back to the answer that I gave to Robert [Pearson 00:02:51]. We think that with the vaccination program, we can do a huge amount to take out of the path of the virus those who are most vulnerable. That clearly offers opportunities to our country to do things differently, to approach the whole issue of non-pharmaceutical interventions very differently. I’m full of the same optimism and fundamental hope about the position that I think Chris has adopted, and that I think that things really will be very different by the spring. That is what I would certainly say to every parent in the land.

Patrick Vallance: (25:32)
On the question of the variants, as the virus replicates, you get changes in the genetic code as new mutations come in and things change. Those changes in the genetic code then lead to changes sometimes in parts of the protein. That may lead to shape changes or charge changes on the protein that might mean that the virus becomes recognized differently by the immune system. That’s really the concern that people are looking at.

Patrick Vallance: (25:59)
If I take the UK variant, what we know is that those changes, and there was 22 changes in the genetic code, made the virus more transmissible. As far as we can see, it doesn’t make it hidden from the immune system. So if you’ve had an infection before, actually the evidence is that you probably neutralize this virus as well. The expectation is the same would be for a vaccine.

Patrick Vallance: (26:24)
With the South Africa variant, there’s another change. That change is theoretically a bit more substantial in terms of the shape, if you like. So it has a bit more of an effect potentially on the shape of the viral protein, which theoretically gives it a bit more risk of not being recognized. But there’s nothing again yet to suggest that’s the case. So this is being looked at very actively.

Patrick Vallance: (26:49)
It’s worth remembering that when a vaccine is given, you don’t just make one antibody against one bit. You make lots of antibodies against lots of different bits. It’s unlikely that all of that would be escaped by any mutation. It’s more likely that if there’s an effect, it’s a minor effect to decrease the binding or decrease the efficacy of the vaccine. But we don’t know yet for the South African one. That needs to be looked at, but it’s a theoretical risk.

Patrick Vallance: (27:18)
Every time we see a variant, that’s going to be the question that comes up, and it needs to be looked at. But at the moment, you’d say that the most likely thing is that this wouldn’t abolish vaccine effect. It may have some overall effect on efficacy, but we don’t know.

Chris Whitty: (27:34)
On the question you asked me, if we did not do the things all of us must now do, if people don’t take the stay-at-home seriously, the risk at this point in time in the middle of winter with this new variant is extraordinarily high. What is going to happen over time is the risk level is gradually going to decrease. It’s not going to be it’s really bad and then suddenly it stops. We’re going to essentially have the risk walking down a path. Things will be able to be lifted by degrees, possibly at different rates in different parts of the country. We’ll have to see. The government has made very clear that ministers prioritize education, for example, as one of the things that would go early, but that’s a ministerial decision very much but in the things we lifted stage by stage.

Chris Whitty: (28:15)
We’ll then get, over time, to a point where people say this level of risk is one that society is prepared to tolerate and lift right down to almost no restrictions at all. We might have to bring a few in, in the next winter, for example. That is possible because winter will benefit the virus.

Chris Whitty: (28:33)
But the aim of this is to de-risk it as much as possible by the vaccine to the point where actually we get to the stage where the risk is incredibly low relative to where we are now. We just say, just as we do with flu, where every year roughly on an average year about 7,000 people a year die, in a bad year up to 20,000 people a year die, we accept there is a level of risk that society will tolerate and we should tolerate. People die, that’s one of the things that happens. We have to do that at a certain point, but that’s a political decision. That’s a societal decision.

Chris Whitty: (29:08)
What we can do though with the vaccine is take the risk down and down, initially with the mortality, then the big pressure on the NHS, then the risk of people actually having infections which could lead to things like long COVID because younger people can still have really serious problems with this. Those risks little by little will be reduced by vaccination, but zero risk is not something which is a realistic possibility. This will not happen in a single bound. It’ll happen by degrees.

Boris Johnson: (29:37)
Thanks very much, Chris. Thanks, Sam. Let’s go to Jason Groves, Daily Mail.

Jason Groves: (29:43)
Thanks. Prime Minister, you’ve committed, I think, to vaccinate 13 million people in the next six weeks. That means something like two million people a week. What needs to happen to get us to that figure? What changes need to be made because we’re nowhere near there at the moment. I think you said we’d get daily updates for numbers. Can I just check? Is that a commitment to publish a daily figure for how many people have been vaccinated?

Jason Groves: (30:13)
Professor Whitty, can I ask you quickly? Is this lockdown enough to reverse the spread of this virus? Or are we in a race against time now? You said we might need a few measures next winter still. What sort of metrics are you talking about?

Boris Johnson: (30:30)
Thanks very, very much, Jason. Look, on your very, very important questions about the pace of the vaccine roll out, you’re absolutely right. Actually, I think the numbers for the first four JCVI groups might be a little higher than 13 million, but we’re going to do them as fast as we possibly can. We’ve set the target, as you know, by the middle of February. Yes, it is a huge effort. This is the biggest vaccination program in the history of this country, and this country has already, I think, done more than any … certainly done more than any other European country.

Boris Johnson: (31:13)
What it will require is a lot of people working together in the NHS, the armed services. Every aspect of government is working at this absolutely flat out. The factor at the moment is making sure that we can get enough vaccine where we want it fast enough.

Boris Johnson: (31:43)
One of the problems, as you know, is that the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has just come on stream, needs to be properly batch tested, properly approved before it can be put into people’s arms. This is just a process that takes time to do, but we will be ratcheting it up over the next days and weeks ahead in the way that you describe. We’ll be giving more details on Thursday of where we’ve got to. I’ve given the figures today.

Boris Johnson: (32:17)
What we’ll be trying to do, Jason, is to try to … and then daily from Monday. What we’ll be trying to do is to try to break down some of these figures for people so everybody can see which groups are getting the vaccine and how it’s being distributed across the country. My feeling is this is something of massive national interest, and we’ve really got to be as transparent as we can possibly be.

Chris Whitty: (32:45)
You asked me if the lockdown will be enough. I think the key to this is all of us buying into this really seriously. If we all buy into this, people stay at home, apart from the things which are like work, going out for essential shopping, exercise, if people stick to those rules really strongly-

Jason: (33:03)
If people stick to those rules really strongly and, at the same time, the NHS is vaccinating as fast as it can, then our hope is the lockdown will be enough. But we’ve all got to do that. This has very much got to be a collective effort. No one can do this on their own. You can’t just do it by rules. It’s got to be people buying into this really seriously.

Jason: (33:23)
In terms of longer term things, obviously, what we all hope is that we can get a vaccine program that actually means we don’t need anything in the future at any stage. That would be the ideal. But I think it’s also important to understand that this coronavirus is not going to go away, just as flu doesn’t go away, just as many other viruses don’t go away. And the time that benefits them most is always winter; that’s one of the reasons we’re having problems now, along with the new variant. And therefore, we just need to keep an open mind about that. The hope would be we don’t need to do anything, certainly nothing on the scale we’re having to do at the moment, because vaccination should take the great majority, possibly all of the heavy lifting. But I think what we shouldn’t kid ourselves, Is this just disappears with spring. What will happen with spring is the risks go right down. Hopefully we’ll have spring, summer, and autumn and, possibly, winter as well with almost nothing in place, once the full vaccination program is through. But we just need to be aware of the fact it is not a problem that just disappears.

Boris Johnson: (34:18)
Thanks very much, Jason. Let’s go to Andy Woodcock, Independent.

Andy Woodcock: (34:23)
Prime Minister, we understand that the UK is shortly going to introduce mandatory negative coronavirus tests for foreign nationals flying to the country. It’s a test of something that airports have been asking for, for months. They’ve been used successfully in other countries for a very long time now. Why has it taken so long for Britain to adopt this position? Is that something that has contributed towards coronavirus being so persistent here in the UK? And if that’s what we’re requesting from foreign nationals, why not UK nationals coming from abroad too?

Andy Woodcock: (34:54)
And also if I could ask the scientist, the prime minister has described schools as a potential vector for coronavirus, if that’s the case, why is it that teachers and pupils are not on the priority list for vaccination? If we vaccinate them, is that not something which would allow us to open school sooner?

Boris Johnson: (35:10)
Well thanks, Andy.

Boris Johnson: (35:11)
First of all, I’ll ask Chris or Patrick to answer about transmission in schools. But I just repeat, the schools are safe. But on what we’re doing to protect the UK from transmission from abroad, we will be bringing in measures to ensure that we test people coming into this country, and prevent the virus from being re-admitted.

Boris Johnson: (35:41)
But Patrick or Chris, you want to add anything on that?

Chris: (35:45)
I mean, on school, two points on this. The first thing is just to reiterate a point the prime minister made. One thing that we do not think is that this new variant is any more dangerous for children than the old variant is. And there’s no evidence, for example, that the hospitals are filling up with children. There is always a risk with any infection to people of all ages. But children are relatively much less affected than other groups, which is one of the few good things you can say about coronavirus. And that will be important, obviously, when schools can go back.

Chris: (36:18)
In terms of vaccination priority, I think from a clinical point of view, the real priority is to make sure that we … You know? We know who the people are who are, by far, the most likely to die and are, by far, the most likely to end up in hospital. And it’s that ordering which the Joint Commission on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) has put in place, and which everybody who’s looked at this has agreed this is correct ordering. Lots of academics, lots of others, have looked at it and they all agree. So I think it’s very important that that ordering, which takes us down not just to the first four tiers which the prime minister talked about, but all the way down to people who are in their 50s, which would include some teachers, obviously, and people who’ve got underlying health conditions, is followed through. Because those are the people who are the most likely to come at risk.

Chris: (37:04)
Then that still leaves around half of the … well slightly more, actually, than half of the population. And there will have to be some decisions made about that in due course. But we are some way from that. And I think the key thing is, prioritize those who are most likely to come to clinical harm.

Chris: (37:19)
A final point on the vaccine is neither of the vaccines are currently licensed for use in children. So we would not be going down that path at this stage, but that may obviously change over time. Patrick, do you want to add to that?

Patrick: (37:32)
[inaudible 00:37:32]

Boris Johnson: (37:32)
Terrific, thanks. Andy, let’s go to Dominic Yeatman of Metro.

Dominic Yeatman: (37:37)
Hi there. Prime Minister, the UK has seen more than 50,000 people test positive for coronavirus for eight days in a row now. If you had taken this lockdown decision 24 hours earlier, it would have stopped three million primary school children mixing for a day and taking the new wave of infection back to their families. Do you regret this delay? And secondly, if I may, nearly one million children access the internet via mobile phone connections, where a day’s lessons can cost £100 on pay-as-you-go. If you still insist that schools are safe, shouldn’t those children be in school? And if not, why are telecom companies allowed to charge for access to school and educational websites still?

Boris Johnson: (38:27)
Yeah, well, I mean, in a way, Andy, I think you’ve … Sorry, Dominic, forgive me. You’ve answered your question about why did we want to keep schools open. It’s just such an imperative for any country and any society. And as I said, I think, to Vicky from the BBC, we wanted to do everything we could to make that possible. Alas, yesterday, it became clear that the data simply wasn’t going to support that. And the risk was that the tiering system, the Tier 4 system, without taking schools out to the equation, was just not going to be enough on its own. We couldn’t take that risk. And although we’re not seeing some signs that maybe Tier 4 is starting to work in London, and maybe a bit in the southeast on the new variant, the spread of the new variant was really very, very troubling indeed.

Boris Johnson: (39:30)
And so that’s why we took the action that we did. We don’t want to do it. We want to support kids in a school if we possibly can. I’m glad that the BBC is, as I say, putting a lot of educational stuff on TV; that is fantastic.

Boris Johnson: (39:49)
We are also looking at the very point that you make about the potential cost to parents of online teaching. And we’re going to do our best to support them in any way that we can, and to work with the internet companies to see what we can do to help. Because this unquestionably will be a tough period, and all I can say is what we want to do is get back to a position, as fast as possible, where we can get kids back in school. And that’s why we’re doing all the things that we’re doing now.

Boris Johnson: (40:29)
Thanks very much, everybody. I appreciate that this is a very, very tough final stretch for this country. It’s being made tougher by the new variant, much tougher, alas, by the new variant. But the jabs are going in to people’s arms day by day. We’ll keep you updated on what is going on. And in the meantime, I must repeat the basic message: What we’ve got to do is to stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives.

Boris Johnson: (40:59)
Thanks, everybody.